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Tempers flare as NFL teams, developer battle over megamall water park

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The developer of the long-stalled American Dream Meadowlands project provided traffic counts conflicting with evidence provided by the NFL teams at a hearing before the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority
The developer of the long-stalled American Dream Meadowlands project provided traffic counts conflicting with evidence provided by the NFL teams at a hearing before the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority

The NFL teams opposing an expansion of the former Xanadu complex are basing traffic concerns on a “phantom project” that goes well beyond the scope of the developer's current plan, a company executive told state officials today.

At a hearing before the agency overseeing the project, Tony Armlin, a vice president of developer Triple Five, said the New York Giants and Jets have used "flawed" studies to reach "absurd conclusions" about the traffic impact that would result from modifying the project. The Canadian developer hopes to add indoor water and amusement parks to the long-stalled project near MetLife Stadium, reviving it as American Dream Meadowlands.

The assertion came during a New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority hearing focused on the traffic concerns that caused the teams to file a lawsuit this summer against the agency and the developer. At the hearing, Triple Five representatives argued the expansion would have a minimal impact, which representatives for teams later sought to dismiss during sometimes contentious testimony before a sports authority panel.

Triple Five's plans for the water and amusement parks call for adding some 600,000 square feet to the unfinished megamall, bringing the project to 2.8 million square feet. But Armlin said the teams wrongfully based traffic projections on a 7.5 million-square-foot "future vision," which has been discussed only as a concept, and has not been worked into the developer's current plans.

"The teams have done traffic studies for a phantom project that has not been proposed to the NJSEA," Armlin said.

Flanked by a traffic expert, Armlin said the water and amusement parks would result in only 63 additional cars on the Meadowlands Sports Complex roadways when game-day patrons were leaving MetLife Stadium, citing studies by the firm's consultants. He also said traffic and parking concerns would be eased by service expansions by NJ Transit, visitors who choose to "stay away" on game days and Bergen County blue laws that will require American Dream's retail shops to be closed on Sundays.

The presentation was met by sharp criticism from Giants President John Mara, who said it was "simple logic" that the expansion would have a significant impact on traffic. He said traffic has always been a top concern for the teams' fans during their decades in the Meadowlands, causing many season ticket holders to stay home on game days.

"Even if you don't buy into what the traffic experts have told you, don't buy into their fantasy numbers," Mara said, referring to Triple Five. "Use common sense."

Sam Schwartz, a traffic engineer retained by the teams, said 8,000 additional cars would be on the road in the hour after home games because of the parks, citing computer models. He noted that the figures were conservative after accounting for the blue laws, the "stay-away factor" and others.

The presentation by Mara and his experts prompted several questions by a top sports authority official, leading to exchanges that sometimes became heated in front of dozens of attendees. At one point, Mara accused the sports authority of effectively dismissing the teams' findings before even considering them, in favor of getting the project approved.

But the NJSEA official, Ralph J. Marra Jr., rejected the accusation.

"What I have is too widely divergent views of traffic here ... and that's what this committee is trying to get to the bottom of," said Marra, the agency's senior vice president for legal and government affairs.

The teams' protest and lawsuit this summer stem from a 2006 agreement with the sports authority, which gave the clubs veto power over changes to the Xanadu project that adversely affected them. Today's hearing was described as an "information-gathering session" for the agency, which has to approve changes to the master plan for the sports complex.

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